Take a Chance on You

I was out running the other day, and the last thing I ever expected was to get hit by a car.

I was on a narrow, twisting, rural road, and while there have been many times on this road in the past where I had to move over (and sometimes even stop) to avoid oncoming traffic, this particular car appeared to be deliberately coming right at me.

Don’t worry… he didn’t actually hit me. It turns out he was just pulling over and slowing down to ask me a question.

As I came up on the passenger side, the window opened and I looked in. A smiling, older gentleman with a huge moustache and a thick British accent said, “Pardon me. I’m lost and I’m English. Can you help me?”

He looked friendly enough, so I figured I’d take a chance. I said, “I can probably help you with the first one.”

Fortunately, he burst out laughing, and after giving him directions, we shook hands and went our separate ways.

Clearly, it wasn’t the safe answer. But it was definitely the more interesting one.

When it comes to marketing your business – whether that’s designing your web site, choosing your client holiday gifts, naming your company, voicing your opinion, writing your E-Newsletters, or doing any of a thousand other things that constitute putting yourself and your company out in the world – you can either take a chance, or you can play it safe.

Taking a chance in this context means doing things that are memorable and different. Playing it safe means doing what the world expects (i.e. what everyone else is doing).

I had a long lunch yesterday with two of my favorite clients – the principals of a professional service firm. We spoke at length about their newsletter, and in particular, how to improve it in the coming year. One option discussed was whether or not we should “tone it down.”

“It’s a tough economy and people are more serious. Maybe we should take out the edgy graphics… act a little more professional… make sure we come across the way prospective clients want us to…”

I told them I thought that was a bad idea. I told them that downplaying the aspects of themselves and their company that “stick out,” in the hope of somehow appealing to a wider range of people, would only make them anonymous and unmemorable.

And then I gave them the same advice I give to everyone who’s uncomfortably standing at the intersection of Safe and Different:

Authenticity is the most powerful marketing tool there is (other than maybe talking lizards with Australian accents).

The more you can put your finger on – and express – the authentic voice, personality and point of view of your professional service company, the easier it’s going to be to stand out, get noticed and yes, get hired. The edges are where all the interest and activity live… avoid the middle of the road.

Here’s the bottom line. When times get tough, it may seem natural – even logical – to take fewer chances… to close your mouth, sit back down in your chair and make sure you don’t ruffle any feathers.

I think that’s a mistake. I think the opportunity to stand out is greatest when everybody else is running for safety.

And so as you look forward to 2009, I invite you to stand out by being as authentic, unscripted and opinionated as you can stand. If nothing else, it will sure make things a lot more interesting.

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